This is the first of several articles about Microsoft accounts.

This is familiar ground for long-time readers. I’ve been writing about Microsoft accounts and services for years. These articles will simplify things and help you take advantage of services that you may have been avoiding.

This article explains the differences between Microsoft business and personal accounts. It’s a shorter, simpler version of this article from 2016.

In the next few articles, I’ll talk about three related topics:

  • Changing the login name on your personal account if it’s the same as your work account
  • Redirecting your user folders to OneDrive
  • Using Microsoft’s online versions of Outlook, Word, and Excel

Obviously this is riveting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Stick with me even if you’re worried that it will be too exciting for your delicate constitution. If you use a Windows PC or Office programs, you need to understand the way Microsoft has set up its services. Without it, your interactions with Microsoft will be a series of little frustrations.

Overview of Microsoft’s business and personal accounts

Microsoft has two different divisions handling its services and licenses. The two types of accounts – personal and business (“work or school”) – are completely separate from each other.

“Personal accounts” were set up twenty years ago for Hotmail (now and other consumer Microsoft services.

“Work or school accounts” were set up ten years ago by a different division of Microsoft to handle accounts used for business email and corporate services.

The login name for both systems is an email address. Some of you are set up to log into both systems with the same email address. I’ll have advice later about how to simplify your life in that case.

Business accounts

Microsoft runs an extensive set of services for businesses – from small business to huge enterprises.  Your business account is tied to your company. If you change jobs or change your business, your Microsoft business account will change.

If your company email is handled by Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), you have a Microsoft business account.

Personal accounts

Microsoft’s personal accounts are used for its consumer services offered to individuals and families.

If you have an email address, it is a Microsoft personal account.

You can set up a Microsoft personal account with any email address – your Gmail address might be the login for a Microsoft personal account, for example. Until a few years ago, you could use your Office 365 business email address to create a separate personal account – same email address, same company, but two different accounts. If you’re still set up that way, life with Microsoft is very confusing.

The overlap between Microsoft business and personal accounts

Many Microsoft services are available both to business and personal accounts.

Let’s focus on Office licenses and OneDrive.

Office licenses

You need a license to install the Office programs on a Windows PC. The license comes from a subscription to Microsoft 365 (the new name for Office 365).

  • If your company buys the subscription, your Office license is connected to your business account. Microsoft’s enterprise division has a multitude of licenses that cover the Office programs and other business services – business mailboxes, Sharepoint, Teams, and many more.
  • If you buy the subscription individually, then the Office license is connected to your personal account. Microsoft’s personal subscriptions are usually either Microsoft 365 Family or Microsoft 365 Personal.

Small and medium businesses are most likely to be confused by this because it’s possible no one paid close attention to which account was used to buy the license for the Office programs. I’ll give you tips later about how to sort that out.


Microsoft OneDrive provides storage space for online files. You can share files, access them from other computers and your phone, and use OneDrive as a de facto backup system.

OneDrive can be connected to your business account (OneDrive For Business) or your personal account (OneDrive). You can connect to both of your OneDrive storage areas on the same computer.

The two OneDrive systems are separate. If you log in with your business account, you can’t access files in your personal OneDrive, and vice versa.

When OneDrive is connected to your personal account, there is a white icon in the lower right corner by the clock, and OneDrive – Personal is listed in the left column of File Explorer.

When OneDrive For Business is connected to your business account, there is a blue icon in the lower right corner, and it says OneDrive – business_name in File Explorer.

Other overlapping services

There are other Microsoft services that can be used either with a business account or a personal account. A couple of examples:

Logging into Windows – You are urged to log into a new home computer with a personal Microsoft account. If you get a business laptop with Windows 10 Pro, you may be offered the option to log in with a business Microsoft account, shown in the above picture. If you choose the business option, you’ll use your business password to log in (typically also your Microsoft 365 mail password), and your company will have some options to manage the laptop.

OneNote – OneNote notebooks can be stored online either in business or personal accounts.

How to identify your Microsoft accounts and Office license

Sort out your business and personal accounts

The modern world is complicated and there are exceptions to every rule, but for most non-technical people, I urge you to keep things simple: only use one personal Microsoft account, plus one business account if your company email is handled by Microsoft 365.

Straighten them out so you know the login name and password for each of them.

Open up a browser in incognito mode. In Chrome, click on the three dots in the upper right corner, then click on “New incognito window.”

If your business email is run by Microsoft, go to and type in your business email address and password. If you log in and see your mailbox, congratulations! That’s your Microsoft business account.

Now your personal account.

Close the browser windows, then re-open a new incognito window. Go to the main login page for personal accounts,

Type in your Microsoft personal credentials. (If you’re not sure where to start, you might be able to check the email address in Windows 10 Settings / Accounts.) Keep at it until you know your Microsoft personal account credentials with certainty.

It’s impossible to function in Microsoft’s world if the email address and password are the same for both accounts. If you’re in that unfortunate position, then for now change the password on the personal account.

If you log in to both accounts with the same email address, I’ll give you a tip later to make life easier.

 Find out which account includes your Office license

You need to know which account includes your Office license. It will help you respond to Microsoft’s incessant messages about problems with your license, and it will be important when I give you tips about OneDrive later.

Open Word or Excel and click on File / Account. The email address will likely be shown in the right column. That may be enough to identify if it’s your business or personal account.

If you’re still not sure, close your browser, then re-open a window in incognito mode. Go to and log in with one of the accounts. Click on the icon in the upper right / My Account / Subscriptions. If you have an active subscription, you’ll see it listed.

Try it again with the other account, just to double-check.

If you spend a few minutes, you’ll be better equipped to understand the Microsoft world. Once you’re oriented, you can handle glitches with confidence and you’ll be able to take advantage of some OneDrive and Office features that I’ll tell you about next week. More to come!

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